A Tale of Three Cities (In One Week)

While I’m not a homebody, per say (I do write a travel blog), I will always enjoy a good day spent in the sun, eating crackers and reading a book. That is to say, doing absolutely nothing is one of my favorite things in the world. And if I get to do that while people watching a foreign culture, well, that’s even better. So when I say that I visited three different cities in Spain in the span of a week, it’s not only with great joy, but also fatigue.

map southern spain

This tale begins in a fourth city, a city of friendship and relaxation and wonderful memories and even a gorgeous a morning run: Almería. My friend Liz and I decided to take advantage of her early weekend and took a Wednesday night ride to Granada, Spain.

Granada, Spain

The city of white houses on a hill, the largest Muslim fortress in Southern Spain, hippies galore and a kind of horrible first experience with paella drew me in with a strange variety of experiences. Our first night was spent on a friend’s guest bed a bit outside the city center; we visited her favorite local restaurant and became acquainted with her very adorable but feisty kitten. We ate big tapas. We met her Spanish friends.

Fast forward 24 hours and Liz and I had moved to a hostel and were laughing raucously in a seafood tapas bar, having met up with two other friends who’d come to see the city with us. Liz and I had already visited the famous Alhambra, hiked up to a beautiful overlook of the city, pretended the paella wasn’t “that bad” and wandered through tiny shops filled with strange smells, bright colors and people with dreads of all styles. (Did you know there are different styles of dreads? It’s true. Granada will prove that to you!) One tapas bar led to another, which led to a nightclub, which quickly led to the next morning greeting us with sunshine and a rushed check out of the hostel. It was already our last half-day in Granada.

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Inside the iconic Alhambra.

That Friday afternoon, Liz and I boarded a bus to Cádiz and I endured what I’m sure is the greatest torture known to modern mankind: being stuck on a 5 hour bus ride and having to pee. For nearly two hours, I endured what is probably the CIA’s secret training weapon. With each apartment building we passed, I could think of nothing else but how many unused toilets must be in each building. Just a little longer, Sally, just a little longer. You’re tough, you can do it. Sprinting to Sevilla’s bus station loo (the mid point of the long journey) will always be one of my great accomplishments. I did it. I didn’t pee my pants on a bus in Spain.

Cádiz, Spain

We arrived in Cádiz at night and dragging our bags to Liz’s friends place, exhausted, we walked into what could only be described as a frat party sans fraternity brothers. Americans teaching English in Spain had converged on Cádiz for Carneval and as I met each person, decked out in tutus, wigs, light-up glasses and glitter, I struggled to figure out what they actually looked like. Exhausted, Liz and I joined into the beer pong and conversation but let the rowdy crowd leave us behind as they headed out into what were likely packed streets, full of celebration and similarly tutu-clad Spaniards. Conversely, Liz and I changed into pajamas, brushed our teeth and hit the sack.

The weekend of Carneval was a blur of activity, and I don’t mean because of alcohol, though that is certainly true of others I may or may not have seen stumbling around the streets. A morning run preceded hours of sightseeing with Liz and suddenly it was time to dress up and get ready to go out. Saturday night was already knocking on our door, and thankfully I’d purchased a 3 Euro golden, glittery mask to complete my all black ensemble. Or shall I say… the all black outfit that I wear in normal life, too. What can I say. I don’t like dressing up.

duckface carneval

Singing in the street. Tutus. Masks. Rum and cokes poured from our friend’s curbside “bar”, or plastic bag full of beverages. A concert. Long lines for the port-a-potty bathrooms. Glitter. New friends that turned out to be a mere 18 years old. Hunger. Liters of beer. A filafel with sauce, when I’d asked for no sauce. Dancing. Singing. Dancing. A shot of whisky I passed off to a stranger, because there’s no way I’m going to drink that. The sheer amount of people still on the street in the wee morning hours. An eventual return to the apartment where I collapsed on chair cushions placed onto the ground. (I was one of the lucky ones. Nearly twenty people in one apartment doesn’t go so well for everyone.)

The next day, Liz and I took a relaxing beach-side walk and caffeinated ourselves. Back at the apartment, she packed her bags for the inevitable return to work in Almería. I photographed the area a little more, pushed my way into the parade crowd and snapped a few more shots. Later, when Liz left for her ride home, I felt a little pang of sadness as one of the only friends I’d spent 7 non-stop days with, without beginning to hate her, diverged paths from me and I was once again “solo” traveling. I stayed another night in Cádiz, rectifying my previous horrible paella experience and enjoying a quieter apartment (and a real bed) with more friends I’d stolen from Liz. The next morning I woke up earlier than everyone else and enjoyed a private dance party / karaoke session in the kitchen with my coffee, cleaning dishes from the night before.

Seville, Spain

The bus pulled into Seville around six, what would have been dinner time in most of the world, but not in Spain. Finding my way over cobblestone streets to the hostel, I passed the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. I didn’t know that yet. I buzzed into the hostel, surprisingly not getting myself lost along the way, and was welcomed by British accents and one of the friendliest atmospheres I’ve ever experienced from any pay-for-accommodation set up. I replenished myself (both with water and internet access) and headed into the streets to wander a bit before grabbing dinner with friends I’d met just a few days earlier at Carneval. For the first time in ages, I was able to talk politics, international policy and other intellectual riff-raff that I just don’t have the Spanish vocabulary for. That, and most of my friends don’t have the patience for such nerdery, either.

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The Seville Cathedral before I headed inside.

Monday morning I started out on an ambitious foot, after breakfast I ventured into the Seville Cathedral and spent some time wandering the massive halls of the world’s third largest church. Somewhere between the first and fifth side room, it hit me. I literally don’t care. The massive and overwhelming structure had achieved its goal of overwhelming me; though I was overwhelmed not with a reverence for god, but with how much money was wrung out of common people and poured into a big bunch of carved rocks. Money which could have been diverted to easing social ills of the time, would have been used to feed hungry mouths otherwise, and which was extorted in the name of forgiveness from god or pious duty. Then I was overwhelmed with tourism and the meaninglessness of paying 9 Euros to walk through an old building. A steady parade of people, paying their dues to enter and stare and take photographs as proof. I was here. What’s the point of all this travel, I suddenly wondered, if I just look at a bunch of things all day?

I took that thought with me as I sat by the river for the remainder of the day with my Kindle and a bottle of water.

Returning to the hostel that evening and hanging out with the owners and other folks staying there, I was reminded of at least one reason travel is well worth it: the people. I ate dinner in that night, the hostel cooked for everyone and we sat family-style on the roof, introducing ourselves at first and later laughing heartily. The world’s largest Gothic cathedral stood lit up in the distance.

Much thanks to La Banda Rooftop Hostel for helping me and my electronics recharge in Seville. Even though you didn’t know it.

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